What's under the Gearhead Christmas tree

Mark Gibbs pulls a few presents out from under the Gearhead Christmas tree and finds a better solution to his recent quest of randomizing a sequence of numbers, a really cool Bluetooth stereo headset and a service for building SUSE Linux configurations. Ho, ho, ho, indeed.

Here we are just a few days away from Christmas so let's see what's under the Gearhead Christmas tree. Ah, here's a really geeky present … A few weeks ago I discussed the problem of trying to create an Excel spreadsheet that could randomly order a list of numbers without using macros. Reader Peter Butler came up with a solution after which reader Dan Stieneke came up with a really simple solution.

Here's the method: Say we need to sort 75 numbers. In each cell from A1 to A75 we put the formula =RAND() to create a unique pseudo-random number and in each cell from B1 to B75 we put the formula =COUNTIF($A$1:$A$75,"<="&[current]) where [current] would be a reference to the cell containing the random number immediately to the left.

The formula calculates how many cells in the range of random numbers are less than or equal to the current cell. Thus, the lowest-valued random number will have one cell equal or smaller, the second lowest will have two lower-or-equal values, and so on. Voila! Dan gets a Gearhead Extreme Cleverness award (want a copy of the spreadsheet? Drop a note to gearhead@gibbs.com with the subject "Random Sequence".

So, what else might be under the tree? Well, here's a product that I haven't had a chance to discuss yet that you or a loved one might appreciate: The Jabra Halo, a lightweight, portable and versatile Bluetooth stereo headphone set with built-in microphones.

The Jabra Halo

When paired with a device that supports the A2DP Bluetooth profile, such as an iPhone or Droid (see my review), you have great media playback and, when you receive or place a call, the music will be automatically suspended. I tried the headphones with the Pandora application on the Droid and wow! Heavenly! Great mobile music! (Drop a note to gearhead@gibbs.com with the subject "Pandora" to get a link to my stations).

The headset folds using a cool "snap" hinge mechanism on either side (how long this will take to wear out is my only concern) so it takes minimal storage space, and when locked in place the electronics fire up and you'll be connected to whatever device is in range that you've paired with. If you prefer to use the headphones in wired mode, the provided micro USB-jack-to-mini-jack cable disables the Bluetooth subsystem (making the headphones air travel friendly).

The sound quality is excellent: Good high and middle frequencies with a surprisingly rich bass. The center depression on the right ear piece is a switch to answer and end a call or, if music is playing, stop and start playback. Volume control is a touch-sensitive strip on the front edge of the right ear piece.

I love these! And given the quality and feature of the Halo headset, not a bad price at $129.99. I'll award the Jabra Halo headset 5 out of 5.

The final present under the Gearhead tree is a cool way to get the Linux configuration you want, as long as it's SUSE-based -- with the least amount of effort: SUSE Studio.

SUSE Studio helps you create a custom SUSE configuration formatted for a live CD or DVD, a VMware image, a hard disk or USB image, or a virtual machine to run under Xen.

You start by choosing a template based on openSUSE 11.1 or 11.2, or SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 or 11. Under these choices you can select from a number of variants; all templates include a text-only server version and all but SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 offer a minimalistic "Just enough OS(JeOS)" version. Other choices, depending on the operating system version, include minimal X, Gnome desktop, or KDE 3 or 4 desktops.

Next you select 32- or 64-bit architecture, name your appliance, and select which applications are to be included along with configuration details such as locale; network setup; predefined users and groups; personalization (logos and desktop background); default run level and user license agreement; MySQL configuration; desktop logon and program autostarts; storage and memory; and scripts to be run at the end of the build or whenever the appliance boots. You can also optionally add file into the target configuration.

Finally, you select the configuration format (USB, hard drive, CD, virtual machine and so on), assign a version number and click on Build … bam! You've got yourself a ready to run SUSE Linux system. Let's see Santa beat that ….

Learn more about this topic

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Improving Excel and Yahoo Pipes

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